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COVID Exposes the Dangers of Globalization

Fifteen years ago, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman released his bestselling book “The World Is Flat.” During a trip to India, Friedman had been jerked awake to the reality that the world had changed overnight. The dotcom bubble had created a hyperconnected world, flattening the playing field so people who had been cut off from participating in the global economy could now participate equally.
“Globalization 3.0 is not only going to be driven more by individuals but also by a much more diverse — non-Western, nonwhite — group of individuals. In Globalization 3.0, you are going to see every color of the human rainbow take part,” Friedman predicted.
Many of Friedman’s sage observations proved to be true. A prime example: Zoom, the most popular platform the world is using for teleconferences due to the coronavirus pandemic, was founded by a Chinese immigrant to the U.S.

Yet even as the world embraced the wonders of globalization, a crucial question remained unanswered: What exactly are the rules of the game so all have a chance to benefit and play equally and fairly?
One of the reasons this question has remained unanswered is that globalization has often been conflated with free enterprise gone global. But the free enterprise model that brought prosperity to many parts of the world had a different set of rules. Among them was the idea that business can thrive when there is fairness, transparency and a level playing field for all citizens.
Genuine free enterprise promoted the rule of law and rejected the marginalization and exploitation of individuals who worked hard and fairly to make a better life for themselves.
Globalization, while allowing for some of the concepts of free enterprise, created a vastly irregular playing field.
Powerful businesses, such as the sweatshops in Bangladesh, gladly overlooked unhealthy working conditions and wanton destruction of the local environment to maximize profit. Many companies based in wealthy nations also moved their production lines to other countries, where they could make their products for a fraction of the cost, even if it meant tens of thousands of workers back home would lose their jobs.
Profit at any cost was the driving motive.
While nations capitalized on new opportunities for furthering global trade, it was often at the expense of their citizens’ self-interest and national security. This entire narrative sums up the socioeconomic angst that propelled President Donald Trump to the White House and fueled Britain’s exit from the European Union. Trump’s “America first” policy was a backlash against unrestrained globalization.
Of course, President Trump and the “Brexiters” were denounced as isolationists who didn’t want to cooperate with the global community, but now, as the coronavirus is sweeping across the world, the negative effects of globalization are becoming undeniably evident.
During the globalization years, the U.S. and many Western nations made the grave mistake of outsourcing their health industries to foreign nations, compromising the health security of their citizens and opening themselves up to blackmail.
How can it be that Italy, Canada and other nations, including the U.S., depend so much on China — where COVID-19 originated — for their personal protective equipment and other urgently required medical supplies? The coronavirus has made us realize the health security of a nation is as important as the fight against terrorism.
Like many other things, the coronavirus crisis is demanding an urgent reset on globalization. Every country is now forced to put its self-interests first to deal with and manage its own crisis.
The damage brought to the economy is going to be severe in many parts of the world. It is going to be felt acutely by hundreds of millions of Indians through no fault of their own. India, too, under the present government is putting India first. Prime Minister Modi recently resurrected the slogan “self-reliant India” as he spoke to the nation in a televised address.
The global reset will have to first address the unemployment issue caused by the economic consequence of the pandemic. Hundreds of millions of workers in India, the U.S. and the world over have lost their employment because of the way this virus was allowed to spread.
Free trade cannot be based on slave labor trade. It cannot be built on currency manipulations or ignore a country’s agricultural needs to be self-sufficient. Nations need to decide what industries working in a free market are essential to the livelihood of their citizens.
For too long, the world has allowed economic interests to sidestep human rights and dictate the terms of globalization. The coronavirus is a warning shot alerting us to this dangerous pattern. It’s up to the political, business and health care leaders of each nation to decide whether they will heed it or not.

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